Thursday, March 28, 2013

All Ten Miles: Losing a daughter. A mom. A friend.

M looked into my eyes and she knew. Still, I had to tell her. She curled into my lap, knees to her chest, in the back of the car saying "No, no, no, oh my god, no" over and over again. She couldn't catch her breath, and neither could I.  I held her as her tears soaked through my shirt and dripped down my belly. I was silently weeping as I held her. She was like a baby again, all 18 years of her rounded into me, all ten miles to her house to say goodbye to her mom.


I met T 10 years ago when she moved across the street. We became fast friends, as they say, sharing holidays together and late nights talking about philosophy, kindness, love, and compassion. In fact, at one point, I almost had her at vegetarianism. "Nah," she said, "I decided it would be an excuse to eat too much junk food."  T brought sunshine into the room with her, and she loved her three children very much. She was almost always happy and optimistic.  A good friend to many, she loved her girl nights with a glass of Chardonnay. Sedona was her favorite place in Arizona and she even volunteered to help the MISS Foundation on a number of occasions. She made the best silly faces for pictures... she always made me laugh. And when she and her former husband filed for divorce, they were graceful, gentle, and cooperative, and they remained close friends for years. I deeply admired the way they cared for one another through the grief of that divorce. In October of 2011, when we had our barefoot walkabout (barefoot hike) she bravely took off her shoes to walk in memory of her sister, a beloved baby, who died 40 years earlier.

Over the course of 10 years, I'd see T through many difficult days and nights, some of them the normal struggles of being a  newly single mom- some of them related to her own existential questioning. Nothing unusual or extraordinary, just very real and very human. When I recently moved from the neighborhood, she'd come visit me in Sedona where we'd hike and sit, quietly, on the majestic red rocks. And on occasion, when I was running early headed into town, we'd meet up at the ol' neighborhood Starbucks where we'd share her triumphs and struggles (she often teased calling me a "friend-a-pist" and "ther-a-friend").

She'd been seeking a spiritual path the past year or so. I'd given her a recommended reading list on mindfulness and self-compassion, and she was so excited about opening her heart to the numinous. The last time I saw her, she was healthy, happy, and doing well tolerating the normal ups and downs of life.

But about five weeks ago, life became tough for her.  I gave her some names and numbers of some local therapists for some "real" therapy. She was self-employed and couldn't afford insurance, so she was concerned about the cost. I stressed to her the importance of getting help from someone she could see every week in a therapeutic relationship. When we hung up the phone, she seemed hopeful, and we committed to reconnecting for our Starbucks meeting in a few weeks.  I texted her a few weeks ago but she was out of town so couldn't meet for coffee. I texted her again last Friday:

I said, "Hey T-mama, hows about java this am?"

She said, "So sorry Jojo, I don't feel well at all. Another time?"

I said, "Oh, no good sickies?"

She said, "Yeah."

I said, "No problem, feel better xo"

That was my last contact with T.

What I didn't know was that a few weeks earlier she was out of state where she'd seen a physician who prescribed multiple psychiatric medications to stabilize her.

But what I learned yesterday was that she seems to have destabilized. Our other friends said that when she returned from out of state, she spiraled downward into a vortex of strange and highly uncharacteristic behaviors:  social withdrawal - very unusual for T because she was very attached to and reliant upon her small circle of friends, anhedonia, fear, anxiety, akathisia, and even deeper into despair. She was even fearful to see her children. Her former husband said he'd never seen her like this in their many years together.

The descriptions of her behavior do not reflect the friend I've known over the past decade.

On Tuesday at 4:30pm, I got a disturbing call from her former husband. I heard the message. I remember exactly where I was standing. I shook my head. I replayed the message. It was hard to hear. I walked outside and played it again. "What? What? What?" Over and over in my head.

I called him back and rushed out the door to the streets of the old neighborhood where so many wonderful memories had been held all these years. I pulled up to T's house. AR van. Investigators. Cops. He ran over to me and we held each other and cried. We waited until after midnight in the cold desert air, not dressed for such conditions, floating in and out of our bodies. It was nothing short of a nightmare. And the children- they didn't know yet. They are so young, oh so young to lose their mother, only 12, 13, and 18. Our hearts were breaking right there on the streets of the old neighborhood.

We made a conjoint decision to tell M, the eldest child, first. But her former husband wasn't allowed to leave the scene.  So D and I went to pick her up, telling her something happened. And ten miles of that drive was nothing short of excruciating. Her beautiful daughter, her flower, folded up into my arms, quivering. It brings me to tears again now as I type this.

M is brave, like her mother. She asked if she could wait to see her mom leave into the van. I asked, "Are you sure you want to do that sweetie?" She insisted. So we waited hours until they wheeled T out on the gurney, covered in a thick black blanket. M put her head gently on her mama's body and my arms held this precious grieving child as she sobbed. They were patient with us as M wept for quite awhile. When she was ready, she took a deep breath, put her head into my chest, and cried more as they put T into the van.

We went back to her former husband's house very late where we then had to tell her younger children. Words can't describe it here, so I wont even try. None of us in that house slept all night. The meeting with the funeral home is today, at one of the few places where we'd entrust T.  And I saw her parents, children, siblings, and her closest friends mourn and weep and anguish over this huge, irremediable loss...

What words are there for something like this? We are left with many, many more questions than answers. This is not T. In the many years we've all known her, she had never been like this. And so I have very strong feelings about all of this, including anger. She did not take her own life: T would not. She was killed by broken medical, mental health, and insurance systems that fail to provide real support and aid to those who are suffering.

But that is for another time. The time for tears is now. And this, writing her story, is the beginning of my own therapy, my own way to remember and honor her through all the pain. Wherever she is, she's with her beloved big sister now.

T, thank you for hiking barefoot with me. I miss you already. We all miss you already. We will do our best to take good care of your babies.

Thank you to T's family for asking me and allowing me the tragic privilege to tell her story.

*Please note:  I will be taking a few days. If you call or email, please be patient with response time. Thank you*


Karry said...

There are no words. Sending peace, strength, and love.

Bug Family said...


Please take all the time you need to do what you need to do. I'm so so sorry for the loss of your dear, special friend especially in this way. No words. Tears. Just tears. What a loss to this world.

Please send love, Compassion, hope and sincerity to her family from us. And of course to you.


Cindy Cunningham said...

I sit in silence reading this, waves of shock, anger and sadness washing over me. Hard to put into words what I am feeling. My love to you, Joanne, and my thoughts and prayers for the family.

Loraine Ritchey said...

I am so sorry -something similar happened to my daughters father in law - the medication "enhanced suicidal tendencies" on the black box warning on three of his medications - he talked to his son about going hunting the following week, talked to his fiancee as she drove home from work said he put the kettle on for her tea and had walked the dog. went into the garage and shot himself.... to this day I firmly believe he was not in cotrol the medication was

Tony Previte said...

Devastating. Thoughts are with you Joanne.

megan said...

oh sweetheart. oh.

Christine said...

Jo, I am holding you in my heart. Sending so much love to you, to the family of T. So many tears. I am so sorry.

Mama Bear said...

sending love xoxo

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your loss, for the loss of this beautiful woman in the world, for the loss her daughters are experiencing...
I sobbed through this, and send you and her family my wishes for peace, for healing, much love and many blessings.

Kiri said...

My friend's father committed suicide a week ago, leaving such a searing torn hole in his family.
I remind myself over and over that people are not that last sad decision they made, that label, they led a whole rich life to be honoured. So sorry to hear of this family's loss and wish there family strength, peace and love.

Amelia's Mom said...

Dear Jo,

With tears in eyes and heart, I'm so sorry for your loss. Sending you love, lots of love.

Biggest hugs,
Amelia's mom.

Unknown said...


Thank you, for sharing your words have helped.

Being so far away (In T's hometown) its even harder to comprehend when you only get pieces.

Thank you for loving and comforting her!
Roze Wiebe

The Happy Hunting Widow said...


Tina spoke of you often. I also have a degree in Psych and work with Veterans. I have been able to help with over 35 suicide preventions. T was one of my very best friends. I went to high school with her and over the last three years we have traveled together and remained close. When she did not call me back this last month, I should have known that something was wrong. T did not mask her feelings and hide behind smiles or act like everything is ok when its not. She knew what depression was and when I heard what had happened, I knew IMMEDIATELY that Big Pharma and a lack of medical care was the killer. The T we knew and loved was not the same person who did this. She would not have done this to her children. She was a victim of cyclic ideations that consumed her and she did not have any control over these thoughts. She should have been cared for in many different ways and I know people are blaming themselves that they should have known better. I work with people who are in the profession of arms. We deal with guns daily. I know her feelings (in her right frame of mind) about guns and their use. They were never to be abused, only for protection of her kids. She was the ultimate "mama bear" and would do anything for their benefit. Ultimately, their benefit was skewed to not include her in their life. This is tragic as it was not her true spirit or feelings. I am angry at the doctors. I am angry at Big Pharma...I am angry at the fact that so many families and friends have to go through this and I will remain angry and take action until something is done about it! We are not alone and this makes it even more personal for me. Let me know if I can help connect the dots. Long live our "Mama Bear"! She will never, ever, be forgotten as her true self!

Unknown said...

Thank you for your strength, friendship and support for T. Thank you for stating the facts about all of these drugs that should be helping, but hurt so many more. Most of all, thank you for being there for her babies and her family. I share your loss and sadness...

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Thank you all for reading and for your kind expressions of love, camaraderie and support.

Vendt said...

I am so sorry Dr. JoRo. So so sorry. Your work and fight against the DSM-V...this is precisely who you are advocating for. Imagine had she found a mindful provider instead of a prescription writer...the hearts that would not be shattered. Heartbreaking, truly. You and her precious children are in my heart. Sending unending love to you all.

still life angie said...

I'm weeping over here. I'm just so sorry, and if it helps to know, I needed, desperately needed, to read this today. Thank you for your courage to write it, and the courage of T's family. Love you.

Nature girl said...

Thank you for your explaining what had happened in a way that T would have wanted. It helped answer a lot of questions which makes the hurt a little softer. We are all so devastated; I cannot even find the words to express my grief. I love you T and am sending all that love toward your beautiful children. May Christ carry them through this terrible time.

Amanda said...

This is such a sad story and one that sounds all to familiar. My cousin is now gone and the medical system failed him too. I'm so sorry for this tragic loss and my thoughts and prayers go out to her and her family and friends.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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